TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
2 and 1/2 stars out of 4
Not so long after announcing his retirement from acting after the vastly underrated "Gran Torino," Clint Eastwood backpedals by appearing as the lead in "Trouble with the Curve" -- the first movie he has starred in and did not direct since "In the Line of Fire" from way back in 1993.
"TWTC" is the feature debut from director Robert Lorenz but it might as well be Eastwood -- also one of the producers and whose fingerprints are all over it. After watching it you can reasonably assume Eastwood had the final say in everything from shot blocking to the choice of locations and the on-set caterer. This is an Eastwood directed movie in all but name.
Shot completely in and around Atlanta, "TWTC" is to baseball what "Million Dollar Baby" was to boxing or "Gran Torino" was to crotchety war veterans and muscle cars. Eastwood's old, he's cranky, he takes no guff and he eventually sees the errors of his ways. Along the way he imparts some sage wisdom upon the youngsters which only reinforces his legendary, iconic status. Eastwood is an amalgamation of Cagney, Cooper, Bogart and Brando who, until only recently, was afraid to play his age. He makes being an octogenarian cool.
The trouble with "TWTC" is that it's only just average. Eastwood plays Gus -- a scout for the Atlanta Braves who is in the early throws of Alzheimer's but flatly refuses to admit it. His beyond-dedicated coworker Pete (John Goodman) does everything he can to cover for him, yet even he realizes the inevitable is on the near horizon. Gus is ready to be set out to pasture and Pete puts his reputation on the line with upper management by giving him one more shot at glory.
In order to do so, Pete needs the help of Mickey (Amy Adams), Gus' only child and an attorney currently fighting tooth and nail to become a partner in a good ol' boy law firm where she works. It doesn't help matters that Mickey's relationship with Gus is at best, strained, and he remains the distant and uninvolved father he's always been. Setting up the contentious parent-child scenario well, screenwriter Randy Brown soon resorts to broad strokes in order to paint their ongoing tumult. We know where it's headed, they know where it's headed and rest is just inevitable window dressing.
Gus is charged with going from one outback burg to another while sizing up a soon-to-be high school superstar that is even more over-written. Egotistical and far plumper than any athlete hoping to be taken seriously could possibly be, Bo (could that name be any more cliche?) is the first indicator that baseball is not Brown's strong suit. This facet of the narrative is embarrassingly naive. More fitting with something along the lines of "The Bad News Bears," this -- and all other baseball aspects of the film -- are laughably inaccurate and overshot. Anyone with even minor knowledge of the sport's most rudimentary and fundamental workings will laugh it off.
Far from the norm with this type of cookie-cutter, feel-good, faux-uplift sports affair, "TWTC" makes up for a whole bunch of tedious hokum with a final act that squarely hits the mark. After tap-dancing (and at one point clogging) her way through a cutesy romantic sub-plot with Justin Timberlake, Adams (perfect the whole way through) brushes past Eastwood and delivers the film the emotional wallop and athletic authenticity angle it thus far has struck out on.
For Atlanta audiences, identifying the locations will probably end up being more fun than the movie itself. Gus lives somewhere in the Virginia Highlands, he and Mickey have dinner at a Buckhead greasy spoon, she works in a Midtown skyscraper, Adams and Timberlake walk the streets of a never-better-looking Athens and the final scenes take place in and just outside of Turner Field. "TWTC" is easily the highest-profile film shot and set here since "Driving Miss Daisy" more than 20 years ago and it makes our little corner of the world appear quite inviting.
Thanks, Clint. Don't be a stranger and y'all come back here soon. (Warner Bros.)